Values Matter – Niall Crowley

Values matter. Values shape our behaviour, attitudes and choices. Values influence the priorities of organisations and how organisations go about their business. We need organisations that are committed to equality and human rights and that prioritise values of dignity, inclusion, autonomy, democracy and social justice. Such organisations would relate in a better manner to people, benefit the full diversity of people to whom they provide services, and offer a better environment for all their staff.  The new statutory duty on public bodies to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality and protect human rights could be the stimulus for the emergence of just such organisations.

  • Values matter.
  • Values affect how organisations operate.
  • Human rights would ensure that everyone has basic minimum standards.
  • Equality is the more ambitious. Human rights is the crucial foundation.
  • Even the foundational human rights step is missing in so many cases.
  • Values are what unites equality and human rights. Both are rooted in values of dignity, inclusion, autonomy, democracy and social justice.
  • Dignity is about respect and human worth; inclusion is about belonging; autonomy is about freedom and having real choices; democracy is about participation in decision-making and having a say; and social justice is about a more equal distribution of jobs, income, wealth, and public goods such as education, accommodation, and health.
  • The challenge then is to get the organisations with which we deal to be clear in their values of dignity, inclusion, autonomy, democracy, and social justice.

Values seem a bit of a luxury item when compared to the struggles of day-to-day living. They are something we should be concerned about, but maybe when we have a bit more time. Yet, whether we attend to them or not, values are shaping how we think, the choices we make, and how we behave. Values matter.

Values are relevant to how organisations operate. Organisations are always too busy to worry about something as intangible as values. They are still there, tucked away in a strategic plan, up on that dusty shelf. Yet values shape what organisations prioritise and how organisations go about their business. Values matter.

When we look at what we like or dislike about an organisation we can often track it back to the patterns of behaviour of those in the organisation. We can find, or be shown, the policies and procedures that govern that behaviour. What we don’t often get to talk about are the values that shaped these policies and procedures in the first place. If we have a compliment or a criticism to make about an organisation it usually goes back to these values.

We would have a better society if the organisations we had to deal with were committed to equality and human rights. These organisations would relate in a better manner to the diversity of people to whom they must respond. They would benefit the full diversity of people to whom they provide services. They would provide a better environment for everyone they employ. They would set a standard for all other organisations to follow.

Human rights would ensure that everyone secures minimum standards. These are set out in international instruments for civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. These standards are to ensure people are treated with dignity. They are the foundation stone. Non-discrimination is a key part of this minimum standard. This is shared with the concern for equality that encompasses equality legislation that prohibits discrimination and harassment in employment and service provision – the Employment Equality Acts and the Equal Status Acts.

However, equality holds a greater ambition than non-discrimination. Even the equality legislation goes beyond such a minimum standard in requiring employers and service providers to make reasonable accommodation to ensure people with disabilities can participate and have access. This demands a proactive approach from organisations. The legislation also allows action to achieve full equality in practice by employers and service providers. This demands an ambitious approach by organisations.

Equality is about more than non-discrimination. It is about making adjustments to take account of the practical implications of difference. It is about ensuring real change and new outcomes for groups experiencing inequality. These outcomes would include economic equality in access to resources; political equality in access to influence and having a say; cultural equality in access to a status and standing in society for one’s social group; and equality of respect in access to relationships of love, care and solidarity.

When looked at in that way, the first thing that strikes one is that equality and human rights are different. Equality is the more ambitious. Human rights is the crucial foundation. The second thing that strikes one is that we have work to do to ensure the organisations we deal with in society are committed to equality and human rights. Even the foundational human rights step is missing in so many instances. This brings us back to values.

Values are what unites equality and human rights. Both are rooted in values of dignity, inclusion, autonomy, democracy and social justice. Dignity is about respect and human worth; inclusion is about belonging and accommodating diversity; autonomy is about freedom and having real choices; democracy is about participation in decision-making and having a say; and social justice is about a more equal and just distribution of jobs, income, wealth, and public goods such as education, accommodation, and health.

It is not that organisations or the people that run and work in them don’t hold these values. We don’t have to persuade them to take on new values. The problem is that they don’t prioritise these values, they don’t act on them sufficiently to make them the guiding motivation for personal behaviour and organisational operations. We need to persuade them to prioritise these values.

Organisations need to be more explicit about their values and they need to set out exactly what they mean by the values they say they espouse. When organisations are explicit they can be challenged about what values they prioritise and they can be challenged where they fail to live up to their values.

On a more positive note for organisations, when organisations are explicit about their values they can achieve a shared understanding of aims and aspirations among staff and service users, a stronger commitment to the mission and vision of the organisation, a better understanding among staff regarding their roles, and a coherent alignment of policy and practice with their values.

The challenge then is to get the organisations with which we deal to be explicit in making a commitment to values of dignity, inclusion, autonomy, democracy, and social justice. They need to be encouraged to develop and use an  equality and human rights statement. Such a statement would set out and define their values. It would establish objectives they wish to achieve in relation to each of these values in relation to staff and service users. It would identify the internal and external issues they must deal with to achieve such objectives.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 might be of assistance, certainly when it comes to public sector organisations and possibly when it comes to publicly funded organisations. This legislation introduced a statutory requirement on public bodies to have regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, promote equality of opportunity, and protect human rights in carrying out their functions. This important development has yet to be implemented in any serious manner by the public sector.

The Act requires public bodies, when they are preparing strategic plans or similar documents, to:

  • Assess and identify the equality and human rights issues that are relevant to their functions as policy maker, employer and service provider;
  • Identify the policies and practices that they have in place or that they plan to put in place to address these issues; and,
  • Report on their achievements or developments with regard to these issues in their annual reports or similar documents.

What better way to implement this new statutory duty than by preparing an equality and human rights statement? This would strengthen and prioritise values that underpin equality and human rights in the organisation. It would render these values explicit and develop accountability for their implementation in practice. What better way to remind staff in these organisations of their equality and human rights values and how these should motivate their work? The Values Lab have already developed and tested such a model with public sector organisations and non-governmental organisations.

This all might seem like a big jump. We are as sure of our belief in equality and human rights as we are sure of being in a minority in holding such values. Recent research in England puts this into a whole new perspective. This was a survey, based on a thousand people, carried out for the Common Cause Foundation who have led this new values-based approach to social change.

People were asked what they valued in life. The researchers looked at groups of “compassionate” values like ‘helpfulness’, ‘equality’ and ‘protection of nature’ and “selfish” values such as ‘wealth’, ‘public image’ and ‘success’. They found that 74% of respondents place greater importance on compassionate values than selfish values, irrespective of age, gender, region, or political persuasion.

It is the second finding that is the most striking. They found that 77% of respondents believe that their fellow citizens hold selfish values to be more important, and compassionate values to be less important, than is actually the case. People who hold this inaccurate belief about other people’s values, the researchers found, feel significantly less positive about getting involved in action for change, feel a high level of social alienation, and feel less responsible for their communities.

How does an apparent majority holding values of equality and sustainability end up alienated to the extent that they don’t give expression to these values? The researchers asked people what values they felt were encouraged by key types of institution: arts and culture, schools and universities, the media, Government and business. They found that people believe that each of these institutions discourage “compassionate” values, and encourage “selfish” values.

There is work to be done in sorting that out. We need to find new ways of talking about our values of dignity, inclusion, autonomy, democracy and social justice. Only in that way can we establish that they are widely shared and we can strengthen the priority given to them by the organisations we deal with.

Author Bio

Niall Crowley is co-founder of the Values Lab, www.values-lab.ie

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